BY DAVID W. ALMASI, Project 21
Project 21 member John Meredith released a statement about the vandalism of the statue depicting his civil rights icon father, James Meredith, that is located on the campus of the University of Mississippi.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, February 16, a construction contractor working on the Ole Miss campus reported that he heard two men yelling out racial slurs. Afterward, the contractor said he later found that the life-like bronze statue of James Meredith — the first black student at the school — had a rope noose around its neck and a pre-2003 Georgia state flag covering its face. That flag contains a version of the Confederate battle flag.
James Meredith’s integration of Ole Miss in 1962, which began with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling favoring his enrollment at the previously all-white school and ended with presidential intervention to quell deadly rioting, was a major turning point in the civil rights era. The statue of James Meredith was unveiled in 2006 and has never before been vandalized. The Ole Miss Alumni Association is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of any perpetrators. The FBI is working with campus law enforcement as the act is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
James Meredith, now 80 and an advocate of early childhood education of basic societal tenets such as the Golden Rule, Ten Commandments and Lord’s Prayer, told the Los Angeles Times: “That just clearly shows that we’re not training our children like the Bible says. They don’t know right and wrong, good and bad and how to apply it to life.”
His son, John Meredith, a founding member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, said about the vandalism and the response:
While this type of abhorrent vandalism is deplorable, I think the University of Mississippi is to be commended for its handling of the incident.
The speed and determination it has moved with in pursuing justice for this act, coupled with the generous reward offered toward the apprehension of the perpetrators by the alumni association, shows the institution no longer tolerates hateful behavior on its campus or in its name.